Wilderness won in court today! A federal judge upheld the Secretary of Interior’s decision to not build a road through Wilderness in the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. This decision ends a lawsuit brought by a group from King Cove and the State of Alaska. Trustees intervened to support the Secretary’s decision on behalf of eight conservation groups that have been involved in protecting the refuge for decades.
Izembek is a world-renowned and internationally important bird habitat, and also provides important habitat for brown bears and caribou. If the land exchange and road went forward, it would have been the first time that land was removed from Wilderness status to build a road. And a road is the antithesis of Wilderness.
Vicki Clark, Trustees for Alaska’s executive director, had this to say: “The Court upheld the Interior Secretary’s decision protecting Izembek National Wildlife Refuge Wilderness from road development. The Court said she followed the law in all respects. Hopefully we can now focus on continuing to improve health care and transportation in King Cove while also protecting the Izembek Refuge.”
The court noted the importance and sensitivity of the refuge, including the fact that, at times the entire world population of several species such as black brant and emperor geese can be found in these areas.
The Secretary studied the impacts of the road and the land exchange and rejected it. King Cove and the State sued, arguing that the Secretary failed to consider multiple issues in the decision process. But the court rejected all of the arguments. The court decided that the Secretary thoroughly considered the issues and impacts and more than adequately supported her decision.
Last year, the court dismissed most of the legal claims made by King Cove and the state of Alaska, allowing only limited claims to go forward. The federal government has repeatedly studied a proposed land swap and road through the refuge, and consistently rejected the project because of its negative effects on the ecological resources and wilderness values of the refuge. Today’s court decision confirms rejecting the road was the right decision.
Clients: Audubon Alaska, Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges, National Wildlife Refuge Association, Sierra Club, the Wilderness Society, Wilderness Watch
Previous stories on the Izembek Road Issue: